2011 a 'pivotal year' for NFC payments, say RIM, Orange and KT execs

New NFC smartphones, growing payment ecosystem and industry partnerships should offer big boost to the emerging technology

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Bouverot said it isn't clear what Apple is doing with NFC capabilities in the iPhone 5 or iPad 2, and added "from what I'm hearing here this week, I'm not sure they will have it."

Yang and Bouvert said the biggest boost to NFC in the U.S. is the ISIS partnership announced last year by Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile USA to work with the U.S. unit of Barclays to create an NFC-based mobile commerce network. It's likely that Sprint will also join the effort.

There are already thousands of contactless readers installed at U.S. fast food restaurants that could be updated to work with smartphones, but having a common payment system that works across various carriers and banks will be important as well, panelists said.

The panel also cited reports that Bank of America is working on an NFC pilot with Visa in New York City.

Yang noted that South Korea-based KT last month announced plans to work with NTT Docomo on a plan to bring NFC technology to Japan, China and South Korea, where more than 40% of the world's smartphones are used.

Such partnerships indicate strong industry movement toward NFC technology, panelists said. An audience member asked what can be done to convince retailers to install NFC readers or upgrade existing contactless readers. The panelists suggested that once retailers see the ease and convenience that smartphones with NFC can bring, they generally are very willing to pay for readers.

"A lot of locations already have contactless readers activated with a plastic card but retailers see that [the new approach] is just a plastic card in a mobile phone," Bouverot said. "Users won't have to worry they left a card in another pocket." Since carrying a phone is so important to so many people, NFC payments with phones become "very simple and natural," she said.

Given the emerging partnerships and the upgraded smartphones starting to ship with the technology, Bocking called 2011 "a pivotal year for NFC."

Using numbers from Juniper Research and others, Yang predicted that some 457 million devices with NFC will be in use in 2015, up from about 10 million today.

Yang noted that contactless readers on NFC were used to check identity badges at MWC and that the NFC panel discussion had to be repeated a second time to accommodate the interest crowds. Thus, she said that the NFC forecasts are likely "underestimates" as a "very healthy NFC ecosystem is [being] built."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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